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The Tempest is midwinter magic

Nothing ropey about South Hill Park's new adaptation of Shakespeare The Tempest, apart from the brilliantly creative stage design. Read on for the verdict.

SHPTempest-gonzalos shipwreck

Does anyone really understand a work Shakespeare wrote? I mean I know we get the gist of it eventually, but it takes a bit of time to warm up ye olde English and focus your ear on the words. Without the actors’ performance and the creatives, I’d be a bit lost at sea.

Which is pretty apt, given that South Hill Park’s latest belter from the Bard is The Tempest. I must confess, I wasn’t as familiar with this story as some of Shakespeare’s other plays. It was one of the last he wrote alone and actually one of the shortest in terms of words – just the 16,625 (I counted). Which is ironic, as the production here is actually pretty long. but more about that later.

SHPTempest-prosperos woman witchcraft surrounded by spirits

If you don’t know the story (I find a quick Google helps) – there’s a peppering of magic, it’s heavy on love and betrayal, with a little dusting of forgiveness. The opening scene is of a ship, carrying Italian royalty and crew, caught in a storm. Everyone fears they’re done for as the ship starts to sink. They make it to an island where the one-time Duchess of Milan, Prospero (traditionally played by a man, but is a woman here) and her daughter Miranda live with a spirit called Ariel and a grotesque monster-like creature called Caliban.

Miranda pleads with her witchy woo mother to save their souls, but she is, in fact, the architect of the drama in a power play, that could end in tears. Not wanting to spoil the entire storyline for you, the drama unfolds when the shipwrecked travellers are separated on the island. At Prospero’s bidding, Ariel directs each group’s movements but must lure the King of Naples’ son to her cell to hook him up with Miranda. But that is far from the end…

South Hill Park The tempest man caught in hanging ropes and two women talking one on her knees

This fantastical adaptation reunites director Joe Malyan and award-winning set designer Victoria Spearing, who together have the ability to make magic happen on the stage. Malyan adds contemporary creativity to Shakespeare’s work. Nothing too wacky to cause traditionalists to recoil in horror, but enough for it to feel modern and relevant – music and singing used for dramatic effect, life a film’s score. Stunning.

Spearing’s sets always blow my mind and the large hoop of ropes cleverly and convincingly represents the ship’s rigging, the enclosed space of Prospero’s cell and the landscape of the island. Very very clever.


Amy Wilding as Ariel

As for the cast, it was the females who really stood out. Sophie Spencer’s Prospero was knock out. A mind-boggling amount of lines (with only one or two stumbles near the end) but put in a shift as she juggled her character’s desire for power and revenge, with motherhood. Amy Wilding is utterly mesmerising as Ariel – what a voice! Laura Hannawin’s squeaky portrayal of the jester Trinculo, cut through the darkness and offered a bit of comic relief.

SHPTempest-monster Caliban and joker Tricolo

Alex Daykin as Caliban and Laura Hannawin as Trinculo

Special mention goes to Alex Daykin who played the enslaved monster Caliban and had more than a hint of Alex Serkis’s Gollum about him. He crept, crawled and contorted his body like a creature from the deep. Seriously impressive.

What’s not to like? Well, the first half will be a test of endurance if you have the attention span of a goldfish. It is 90 minutes long, followed by 50 minutes after the interval. Despite a numb bum, I wasn’t clock watching. But if you have a weak bladder or low blood sugar, Tena pants and snacks may be required.



Good for: If you love the classics, or are looking for something a little different, this show is a dead cert. Older teens will also love this creative interpretation.

Not for: The first half of this play is long and maybe too much for some.

The Tempest, South Hill Park, Bracknell. now to 8 Feb.

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